Thursday, July 28, 2011

Kirby Estate Loses Copyright Battle

I am sure that this judgment will be appealed, but a Federal court has ruled that the work Jack Kirby did for Marvel was "work-for-hire." This is despite the fact that the legal term was not part of the copyright law at the time Kirby co-created characters such as The Fantastic Four, The Hulk, The Silver Surfer, Thor, etc.

Here's the Associated Press story and here is Deadline Hollywood's.

While I am sure that there is a celebration occurring in the Disney and Marvel boardrooms as a result of this ruling, it's a questionable victory. When the artists at Marvel realized that the company was not going to compensate them beyond paying them by the page, they simply stopped creating new characters. Image Comics exists because a group of artists realized they would never be fairly compensated for their work at Marvel and so they formed their own company. Marvel's treatment of their artists has been consistently bad. See this article on the recently deceased Gene Colan.

Corporate copyright is strangling creativity, not promoting it.

Kirby's case and the ongoing litigation regarding the Superman copyright are just more evidence that anyone who creates something without securing ownership is a chump. It's one thing to be hired onto an ongoing project or series to make a contribution, but quite another to originate an idea and only be paid a regular salary or a flat price.

Stop giving your ideas to corporations. Own them and control them. Or else there will be more Jack Kirbys, Jerry Siegels, Joe Shusters, and Gene Colans ad infinitum.

Why in hell should stockholders and executives who weren't born when the work was created be profiting from it when the people who created it and their heirs get nothing?

(For my earlier take on the benefits of ownership, go here. For Heidi MacDonald, a comics news columnist, on the Kirby decision go here. It's worth quoting her conclusion: "Don’t ever create characters for work for hire, no matter how much “back end” you’re promised. In this day and age there is NO excuse for giving up your creations. We may never see another Jack Kirby among us, but let his lessons stand, both the triumphs and the sadness." )

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